Roosevelt Island Gets $2M for New Library

By Amy Zimmer on July 13, 2012 6:50pm 

An aerial shot of Roosevelt Island.
An aerial shot of Roosevelt Island.
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MANHATTAN —  Roosevelt Islanders have been clamoring nearly four years to move their popular New York public library branch out of its cramped quarters where water leaks have damaged the collection.

Now, $2 million has been earmarked in the city budget for a new space, City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin announced Friday.

The funding represents a pot of $4 million for Roosevelt Island projects, including $1.85 million for the completion of the long-anticipated Louis Kahn-designed FDR Four Freedoms Memorial that’s set to open in October and $150,000 for the nearby FDR Hope Memorial, which will feature a sculpture of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a wheelchair interacting with a disabled child.

“Roosevelt Island is going through a spectacular transformation,” Lappin said of the 2-mile-long sliver in the East River that will be the future home of the $2 billion Cornell NYC Tech campus.

The island even got a new barbecue joint, Pier NYC, whose pit master is from the award-winning Long Island City John Brown Smokehouse and seafood is being overseen by an alum from the ultra high-end Per Se.

Residents were excited about the library’s expected move from its current home at 524 Main St. to its new home down the street at 504 Main St., which will have more than twice as much space. The $2 million was on top of $1 million Lappin had previously secured for the space.

“We can double the size of the Roosevelt Island branch, and in turn offer our patrons increased access to programming, computers, classes, books, and all the services the library has to offer,” Anthony Marx, president of the New York Public Library, said.

The branch, started in 1976 by Dorothy and Herman Reade — Forest Hills, Queens residents who retired to Roosevelt Island — began as a neighborhood endeavor. The couple started it in a community room at 25 Main St., run solely by volunteers, who relied on donations. It moved to its current spot in the 1980s, and only joined the NYPL system in 1997.

Judith Berdy, president of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society, said the first library was in a 20 by 25 foot room and quickly outgrew that space.

“People just put the word out and before you knew it, they had a 25,000-book collection,” she said.

This year through June, Roosevelt Island’s library has seen more than 7,700 visitors and is on pace to reach an estimated 20,000, Berdy said — not too shabby for an island with roughly 12,000 residents.

“It’s been a long-held desire of the community to have separate spaces for kids and adults,” Berdy said. “It’s amazing, whenever you go to the library — at any time of day, not just after school — there are people using it. Especially in these economic times, it’s been busy.”

She added, “We all use the library and we want to be able to use it better.”

Other funding was going to senior education, youth music lessons and free tennis lessons, among other programs.

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